Astronauts of the ISS (International Space Station) have identified microbes in space for the first time without sending samples to earth. Now that the ability to identify microbes right in space is established, this might be an opening to diagnose as well as treat astronauts in real-time.
Scientists believe that now it is possible to identify DNA-based life in space as well. Aboard the orbiting ISS lab, the discovery opens to more experiments.
The microbe identification process involves isolating DNA from samples, amplifying or making more copies, and then sequencing or identifying. The entire process was broken into two major steps: collecting the samples and amplifying by PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction). After these, the sequencing and identification were followed.
Peggy Whitson, the NASA astronaut, conducted the experiment aboard the ISS, in collaboration with Sarah Wallace, a microbiologist and the Principal Investigator of the project, and her team monitoring and guiding the former from the U.S.
In regular microbial monitoring process, Petri plates were touched to different surface points of the ISS. After a week in the MSG (Microgravity Science Glovebox), Whitson transferred cells from the on-growth bacterial colonies from the Petri plates into miniature test tubes. This transfer was done for the first time in space.
After collecting the cells, the DNA could be isolated and prepped for sequencing by using the MinION device, thus allowing the astronauts on board to identify the unknown organisms. This process was again accomplished for the first time in space microbiology.
Then, the data were downlinked to a team in Houston for further analysis and identification. Biochemical and sequencing tests were carried out to confirm the space station’s discoveries. The tests were run by researchers multiple times to ensure accuracy. Every single time the results were exactly such as the same in orbit.